Louisiana State Representative Lance Harris and his wife, Leetha, hope to spark a new wave of volunteerism in Central Louisiana. The couple, residents of Alexandria, are strong proponents in “giving back” to the community, and look for ways to return the blessings they have received in their lives. “Volunteering is a gift you can give that you don’t have to write a check for,” Leetha says, adding that the joy in volunteering comes when you “find your passion.”
For Leetha, she finds her passion by volunteering with the Volunteers of America and by helping with fundraisers for the River Oaks Square Arts Center in Alexandria, along with a plethora of other community organizations. Giving back to the community “in the right spirit” is where “your blessings” come in, according to Lance. “You get back 100-fold. We have been given so much, and we want to give back,” he adds, anchoring his “you will reap what you sow” mentality to life.
Through grants, established through several of their business endeavors, the couple has helped children undergoing treatment for cancer, families who lost everything due to fire and have helped needy families in a variety of ways including covering the cost of a funeral. Making a difference in the lives of others has become somewhat of a touch point in the Harris’ lives. In fact, hoping to serve the public in a new fashion, Lance entered the political realm last year and won the election representing District 25 in the Louisiana House of Representatives. “Besides my orientation, the only time I made a trip to the state Capitol was on a field trip in the fifth-grade,” Lance recalls with a laugh, adding, “But I learned fast in the first three to four weeks [of my office], with so much legislation.”
Recently, Lance was elected chairman of the Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation, making him the Majority Leader, as Republicans currently hold a majority in the House. “It’s been very rewarding serving as a state representative. I am very honored to be able to do it,” he notes.
Although he never anticipated becoming a politician, Lance had a good example of how serving others could affect one’s life. His parents were Southern Baptist medical missionaries in China, who later settled in Pineville. Lance says he learned early on that a person will get out of life what he puts into it. As a youngster, he developed a keen entrepreneurial spirit, and by the time he was in college, had started several enterprises.
A piano performance and business major, Lance’s first two years of college were paid for through music scholarships. The next semester, he was short $300, so he started playing the piano for the Jazz Band at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, and played the bass drum in the marching band. Transferring later to Louisiana College in Pineville, Lance lacked only a few semester hours to graduate when his parents were killed in a car accident. He made a pivotal decision not to finish college, and instead opted to work full-time at the bank where he was employed. By 1984, Lance graduated from the Louisiana Banking School of the South hosted by the University of Southeastern Louisiana.
It was while he was working at Guaranty Bank in Alexandria that he met his future bride, Leetha. The couple have been married for 29 years. After working at the bank for a few years, Leetha went to work for the Louisiana Baptist Foundation. In February 1987, Lance left the banking industry to fulfill a dream of his to start his own business. He opened his first Leebo’s store in Hineston. “Six months later, I bought three stores in Leesville and opened up three more Leebo’s stores,” Lance recalls, adding he swept floors, ran the cash register and worked all phases of the retail petroleum, convenience and quick service restaurant stores as its owner-operator. Today, he and Leetha own 11 Leebo’s stores and plan to open the twelfth Leebo’s in Pineville in February. The new Leebo’s will have a Pizza Hut restaurant inside it. “I will not participate in a recession. It’s my choice. That is my attitude with my company. We keep plowing ahead,” Lance notes, adding he started his first business in a recession.
Through the years, Lance says he has owned restaurants up and down the Florida panhandle, and owned and operated Rooster’s Town and Country, a retail store that sold farm and animal health products and a variety of other businesses. He owns Lance Harris Properties, a business entity that owns and manages several commercial properties in Rapides and Vernon parishes. In 2003, Lance purchased Woodside Pecan Farm, a 400-acre farm with 11 orchards with more than 8,500 pecan trees that yield 29 varieties of pecans. In addition to the pecan trees, the farm manages more than two hundred heads of commercial cattle. In 2007, Lance attained the Louisiana Master Farmer and Master Cattleman certification from Louisiana State University Ag Center.
With his business background, Lance believes he will be able to help with the strategic plans to guide Louisiana through the economic struggles, but is optimistic about 2013. “Louisiana has made some good strides, and there will be opportunities coming our way. It won’t be easy, but we can make progress,” Lance says. Buying locally and volunteering to help in the local non-profit organizations is a big way everyone can pull together to boost the economy, Leetha notes. For years, Leetha helped manage some of their commercial businesses, but now devotes her time to volunteering and helping others. Lance has been active in several civic and community organizations. He has served as chairman of the Alexandria Jaycees and for the England Economic Development District and was a founding board member of the Central Louisiana Business Incubator.
To find out how to become involved in volunteering in Central Louisiana, Lance encourages anyone interested to call his office at (318) 767-6095.